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Chargers Mailbag: Diving Into the Bolts-Ravens Matchup


Welcome back to the Chargers Mailbag!

We'll be running one of these every week during the regular season, so send in submissions for the Mailbag here on Twitter or by sending me an email.

Off we go...

What is the team's biggest storyline going into the Ravens game? (Scott via email)

Welcome back to the Mailbag as we roll along into late November.

The Chargers currently sit at 4-6 and continued their trend this season of alternating pairs of wins and losses in 2023.

We'll get into a 30,000-foot view of the Bolts below but will first focus on Sunday night's primetime matchup against Baltimore.

On a macro level, the Chargers will need to play well in all three phases in order to beat the Ravens, who currently hold the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race.

Baltimore currently ranks in the top 10 in yards per game and per play on offense. The Ravens defense, meanwhile, ranks first in terms of yards per play allowed and are third in yards allowed per game.

And Baltimore's special teams prowess — highlighted by perhaps the greatest kicker ever in Justin Tucker — is a key to their sustained success.

In short, there's a reason why the Ravens rank first in team DVOA entering Week 12.

This might end up being the Bolts toughest game of the season when all is said and done.

So, yeah, the Chargers are likely going to need to play an elite level in all three phases, something that has escaped the team for the majority of this season.

On a micro level, however, I'll be watching the Chargers defense against Lamar Jackson and Co.

The Ravens quarterback and former NFL MVP is playing to that standard again and is the league's best dual-threat quarterback.

A few storylines to keep an eye on:

How do the Chargers adapt to the expected loss of Joey Bosa, who is dealing with a foot sprain and is likely headed for Injured Reserve? Khalil Mack and Tuli Tuipulotu will be key.

And what does the Bolts secondary look like?

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said Monday that "we're working through adjustments with personnel" in regard to the cornerbacks and safeties.

"Just getting the right combination of players out there that will execute consistently," Staley added.

Now, it's not as if the Chargers have endless different options on the back end. But perhaps we see a bit of a shakeup in terms of playing time there.

No matter who is out there though, the Bolts defense is going to need one of their best games of the season in order to get a win.

Welp, the path I had laid out to get to 10 wins and a possible Wild Card spot undoubtedly took a hit Sunday.

And, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Chargers playoff odds dropped from 37.9 percent to 21.0 percent after the loss to the Packers.

Is that concerning? Sure.

Does it mean all hope is lost? No.

The Chargers, by the way, rank 14th in team DVOA — the same metric the Ravens lead the league in. This isn't a bad team, just an inconsistent one.

In order to get into the postseason, the Bolts simply need to pick up an extra win over the next seven games based on the format I broke down last week.

A good place to start would be by beating the Ravens. Not only would that give the Bolts a major boost of confidence, but a win against the AFC's top seed would mean the Chargers are capable of beating anyone down the stretch.

For fun, let's take a look at the teams who are either currently in a Wild Card spot or are ahead of the Chargers in the standings.

That group includes three AFC North teams, two of which — Cleveland and Cincinnati — are without their starting quarterback for the rest of the season. And Pittsburgh, who have been outgained in yardage in every game this season, just let go of its offensive coordinator.

The best-case scenario for the Bolts would be for only one of these two teams to make the playoffs, something that could be possible given they all have to play each other down the stretch.

Then there's the pair of AFC South teams — Houston and Indianapolis — who are both .500 or better. Once again, the Bolts best hope is that these teams neutralize each other in the final seven games, which includes games against division-leading Jacksonville.

That leaves Buffalo as the other non-AFC West team in front of the Chargers. And the Bolts host the Bills in Week 16, meaning a head-to-head win would go a long way in helping the Chargers playoff chances.

Plus, Buffalo's next three games are on the road against the Eagles and Chiefs before a home date with the Cowboys. That's a tough stretch.

Finally, we get to Las Vegas, whom the Bolts have already beaten once, and Denver, whom the Chargers have yet to play.

Finding a way to get at least two wins in that cluster, plus in the season finale against the Chiefs, would put the Bolts right there for a playoff spot.

As I've written here before, am I predicting the Chargers to indeed make the playoffs? No.

I'm simply laying out a path that, while obviously tougher today than last week, is still feasible.

But the Chargers have to do their part here, too. And that means getting hot and going on an immediate run.

That means playing better defense, especially in the passing game, and taking advantage of opportunities on offense and special teams.

The Chargers have lost five games by three points of fewer this season … and were either tied late or had a fourth-quarter lead in all of them.

It's turned into crunch time for the Bolts, both in their overall season and once fourth quarters roll around.

Ummm, Justin Herbert for starters.

Listen, I know fans are frustrated through 10 games. Players and coaches are, too.

But we can all appreciate the weekly performances that the Chargers quarterback is putting together.

Because from just a pure football standpoint, be grateful that No. 10 is on our squad and we get to watch him sling it each week.

A little teaser here, but I sat down for a 1-on-1 with Herbert earlier this week for a feature that is coming out Thursday.

Here is what Herbert said when I asked him about his mindset for the final seven regular-season games.

"We're awfully close. But that's the thing about the NFL, the margin of error is so small," Herbert said. "It's a really tough league, and if you're not at your best, it's really tough to win games like that.

"I know that we're close and that we're doing things the right way," Herbert added. "We just have to crank it up another notch."

That's the guy I want leading my team.

In case you missed the news, the Colts waived linebacker Shaquille Leonard on Tuesday.

Leonard was the Associated Press 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year and earned First-Team All-Pro honors in three of his six seasons in Indianapolis.

But recent injuries eroded his playing time before the Colts cut ties with him this week.

We'll have to see if the Chargers decide if they want to bring him on board. As a reminder, finances are always a factor in these decisions.

The Bolts also have two established starters at linebackers in Kenneth Murray, Jr. and Eric Kendricks, plus reliable depth players in Nick Niemann and Daiyan Henley behind them.

A fresh start could be what Leonard needs. Time will tell if that is with the Chargers.

An intriguing question … and one I actually don't know the answer to.

I've never asked Dicker why he wears No. 11.

However, and this is just an assumption by me, perhaps it's simply just a set of digits for the kicker.

I did some quick research and found that Dicker wore No. 49 as a kicker/punter in high school and was No. 8 as a prep soccer player.

He wore No. 17 all four years at Texas and was No. 13 in a short stint with the Eagles at the beginning of last season.

Once Dicker landed with the Chargers, he was No. 15 as a rookie before switching to No. 11 this offseason.

Dicker has a pretty great outlook on life, as evident by his answer when I asked him earlier this month about how he approaches his job.

"There's ups and downs every day so it's rolling with it. When game time comes, it's doing what you need to do to make kicks," Dicker added. "I enjoy that process and just this [job] while I have it. It's a fun spot to be in."

Dicker doesn't take himself too seriously, but is also a damn good kicker.

Halfway through his second NFL season, he's made 37 of 39 career field goals (94.9 percent) and all 53 extra point tries.

Seems like it doesn't really matter what number he wears.

Oh wow, a pair of personal questions here? Let's dive into them, beginning with the latter.

Do I wish I still worked for the Vikings and lived in Minnesota?

Of course ... if we're only considering traffic and gas prices.

Everything else? I'm very happy where I'm at in my life, both personally and professionally.

I do take my job seriously and strive to provide the best coverage I can for Chargers fans. That does mean putting in the work however, much like I am right now while writing this Mailbag at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night after helping get my 18-month-old daughter to bed and then having dinner with my wife.

As mentioned above, nobody is happy that the Chargers are 4-6. But I also try to look on the bright side at my job and outside of it, too.

I get to cover an NFL team for work. That's something that the teenage version of myself dreamed about.

At home I have a wonderful wife, a daughter who I love immensely and keeps me on my toes every second of the day and a dog that I adore with all my heart.

Covering Chargers losses aren't fun, but I try to check those emotions at the door when I come home each night.

Given that it's Thanksgiving Week, I guess this is me just being long-winded in saying that I'm thankful for everything I have in my life: my family, my health, my friends and, yes, my job … even if it's been a rollercoaster season to date.

Happy (early) Thanksgiving, Bolt Fam. I hope you can enjoy it with the ones you are thankful for.

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